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US Role in Massive Aerial Herbicide Spraying Revealed

By       Message Thomas D. Williams       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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The Public Record - -
July 19, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

Despite years of ongoing, critical public health controversies in Colombia and Ecuador over the US-assisted aerial herbicide spraying of coca and poppy crops while trying to reduce illegal cocaine and heroin production, US State Department officials are pursuing that very same spraying strategy.

In fact, last year, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's administration temporarily cast aside the latest of several State Department exhortations to begin massive herbal spraying operations on poppy crops producing heroin there.

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Colombian aerosol dusting of a mix of Roundup Ultra, Cosmo-Flux and other plant-penetrating agents began seven years ago. (In 2006 alone, the United Nations reported the spraying of approximately 172,025 hectares of coca crops, producing cocaine. That equals a bit over 664 square miles.)

In the meantime, untold thousands of Colombians and Ecuadorians have become sick from the blended chemical spray. Studies have shown the environmental dangers of inhalation and skin and eye saturation of the floating mist. And critically valuable maize, yucca and plantains have been destroyed in large swaths of the fertile country.

For years, DynCorp International of Fort Worth, Texas, has had the lucrative US multimillion-dollar annual contract for Colombian aerial spraying operations.

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The company is being sued in Washington, DC, and US District Court by a class of 3,000 Ecuadorians who claim spray blown over the border from Colombia has sickened them.

"Glyphosate is used all over the world without these kinds of claims," said Gregory Lagana, a DynCorp spokesman. "We spray in Colombia, and there Glyphosate is used extensively. But we don't have any complaints where we spray it and what we do when we spray it. If there are health problems in Ecuador, they are certainly caused by something else." The spray itself, said Lagana, "is prescribed by the governments of Colombia and the United States. Monsanto makes the spray."

Monsanto, the herbicide manufacturer, has from time to time been identified by various Internet sites as the supplier of Roundup Ultra to Colombian spraying operations. But, through spokeswoman Tamara J. Craig Schilling, Monsanto refused to say whether the company is or was a supplier for Colombian spraying. Schilling refused to disclose the differences between regular Roundup and Roundup Ultra. The company claims Roundup is not harmful if instructions on the label are followed. Schilling said a Monsanto official in Mexico referred all such inquiries to the State Department. But, Monsanto also lists an office in Colombia inside its website.

Along with Dow Chemical, Monsanto was one of several US Army suppliers of the infamous Agent Orange, the herbicide used to deforest huge areas of jungle during the Vietnam War. The chemicals were alleged by many in multiple lawsuits to have caused birth defects and cancers among a large population of natives as well as US soldiers and their families.

Despite DynCorp spokesman Lagana's claims that Colombians are not being sickened by the spray, an American Friends service report, as early as 2002, said there were indeed health repercussions in Colombia as well. They cited the Putumayo Health Department report as saying: "Three municipalities targeted by spray campaigns from December 22, 2000, to February 2, 2001, indicated that medical personnel in three local hospitals reported increased visits due to skin problems, gastrointestinal infections, acute respiratory infection, and conjunctivitis following spraying."

In August 2001, a commission from a European Human Rights Organization found in a visit to the Province of Santanter that: "Contrary to official declarations about the harmlessness of Glyphosate, we were able to verify skin conditions (rashes and itching caused by the skin drying to the point of cracking) in both children and adults who were exposed directly to spraying while they worked their land or played outside their homes."

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In fact, in spite of Lagana's insistence that Colombians haven't complained about the spray, a Colombian judge temporarily stopped spraying operations in July 2001 as a result of health complaints from indigenous groups.

Then in January 2002, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations ruled "The UN (Human Rights) Commission should urge the United States and Colombia to discontinue the aerial herbicide application program and seek alternative eradication methods."

Based on a complaint from Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the council concluded: "The combination of (1) health, food resource, and environmental impacts to Colombians and Ecuadorians, (2) the toxicity of the spray mixture and the failure of the United States and Colombia to instruct sprayers to observe health and environmental safety recommendations, (3) the failure of the United States and Colombia to disclose sufficient information about the mixture and its application, (4) the failure of the United States and Colombia to conduct sufficient health and environmental assessments, and (5) the potential human rights abuses that may result from future health studies, clearly places the United States and Colombia in violation of the rights of Colombians and Ecuadorians to a clean and healthy environment, health, life, sustenance, property, privacy, and access to information."

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Thomas "Dennie" Williams is a former state and federal court reporter, specializing in investigations, for the Hartford Courant. Since the 1970's, he has written extensively about irregularities in the Connecticut Superior Court, Probate Court (more...)

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US Role in Massive Aerial Herbicide Spraying Revealed